Female head coaches thriving on Rocky Top

Tennessee enters the 2019-20 academic year with seven female head coaches, more than any other school in the Southeastern Conference. / Source: (Tennessee Athletics)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Tennessee enters the 2019-20 academic year with seven female head coaches — more than any other school in the Southeastern Conference.

Forty-seven percent (seven of 15) of UT's head coaches are female, which also easily leads the league.

Those statistics are fitting for the university at which arguably the greatest female head coach in American sporting history—the late Pat Summitt—built her iconic legacy.

Tennessee's current female head coaches include Kellie Harper (women's basketball), Judi Pavon (women's golf), Lisa Glenn (rowing) Karen Weekly (softball, co-head coach), Alison Ojeda (women's tennis), Beth Alford-Sullivan (track & field and cross country) and Eve Rackham (volleyball).

This continues Tennessee Athletics' longstanding history as a national trailblazer in providing leadership opportunities for women and minorities. Only one other SEC school (LSU) currently has more than six females occupying head coaching roles.

The University of Minnesota's Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, in partnership with WeCoACH, recently issued its 2018-19 Women in College Coaching Report Card. Among Division I schools, Tennessee received the sixth-highest score in the country—tops among SEC members—and was one of only 15 schools to receive a grade of a B or better.

When Alford-Sullivan was tabbed to lead UT's combined men's and women's track program in 2014, she became the first woman in SEC history to stand as head coach of a men's program in any sport. During her four-year tenure on Rocky Top, the program has produced seven individual NCAA champions as well as one winner of the sport's most prestigious amateur honor, The Bowerman Award.

Weekly, who in addition to her impressive coaching resume also boasts a law degree. She has helped lead the Lady Vols softball program to seven appearances in the Women's College World Series and was inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame last December.

"If we want our young women to develop as leaders, it's important for them to see women in leadership positions," Weekly said. "I was extremely fortunate to begin my coaching tenure at Tennessee under the leadership of athletics director Joan Cronan, a trailblazer in college athletics. Between Joan and the late Pat Summitt, I couldn't have asked for better mentors and role models while developing my coaching and leadership skills. I am proud to be at a university that has historically valued female athletes, coaches and leaders."

Harper is entering her first season leading the women's basketball program at her alma mater, but prior to taking the reins at Tennessee, she directed three different schools—from three different conferences—to the NCAA Tournament.

In 19 seasons under Pavon's tutelage, the women's golf program has never failed to make an NCAA Regional and has advanced to the NCAA Championships a dozen times.

Entering her 22nd year at the helm of Tennessee's rowing program, Glenn is UT's longest-tenured active head coach. She has led the Vols to eight NCAA Championship appearances, including four full-team selections, and is a two-time conference coach of the year.

Ojeda is entering her fourth year as the women's tennis head coach; she has guided the Lady Vols to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

Rackham, meanwhile, looks to build on last year's debut campaign, which saw her orchestrate the largest single-season turnaround in program history. She guided the Lady Vols to a 14-win increase overall, 11-win increase in SEC play and an eight-place jump in the conference standings (finishing second).

Additionally, Tennessee is one of only two "major conference" universities to employ a female Director of Basketball Operations for its men's basketball program (Oklahoma State is the other), as Mary-Carter Eggert enters her fifth year in that role. She is one of eight female Directors of Operations currently employed at UT.

For Tennessee Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer, UT's progressive athletics legacy has personal meaning.

"All of my children attended UT, and two of my daughters were Lady Vol student-athletes," Fulmer said. "So I have a firsthand appreciation for the transformational impact that intercollegiate athletic opportunities provide for young women.

"I'm proud of the University of Tennessee's legacy in that regard."

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